The standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government is symptomatic of Washington’s increased hostility towards ranchers, says a seasoned Wyoming environmental lawyer.
“The Cliven Bundy situation goes to show how American citizens react when a government has so expanded that it believe that the citizens are subservient to political power,” Karen Budd-Falen, a senior partner with Budd-Falen Law Offices L.L.C., told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“In this case, the federal government claims that it had to remove grazing to protect a species — when in reality, livestock grazing has a miniscule impact (not even a bad impact) on the species,” said Budd-Falen, who has been representing property owners against federal encroachment for the past 20 years.
Last week, the standoff between Bundy and his supporters and the federal government ended when Bureau of Land Management agents determined removing Bundy’s 900 “trespass cattle” from federally protected desert tortoise habitat presented a serious public safety concern.
But Bundy may have been one of the lucky ones. A House Natural Resources Committee hearing last fall featured several ranchers who claim to have been bullied by the BLM while trying to make a living on federal lands.
Western ranchers often face-off against federal officials because they have to enter into deals with the government over water rights, grazing permits, endangered species protection and many more issues since about half of the lands are federally owned. This means that it’s easy for federal employees to make life hard for ranchers as environmental laws become increasingly more onerous and complex.
“Over the past 20 years in this county there is one thing that has become very apparent,” Idaho rancher Brenda Richards said before Congress last year. “Threats, bullying, and intimidation do not always present themselves in obvious ways or methods, but that does not make them any less damaging, any less wrong, nor does it have any less impact.”
Richards is also the Owyhee County Treasurer and says she has seen first hand how the BLM can negatively impact rural communities. Richards says the “longest running threat and intimidation within Owyhee County has been that that has come from the BLM neglecting to fulfill their obligations of renewing permits.”
Such actions hit ranchers and farmers hard, said Richards, adding that this” is at the expense of the county and the permittee as the BLM has the Federal Government to cover their attorney costs and time, which means it costs all taxpayers and those in our county twice.”
Wyoming Rancher Frank Robbins was also “bullied” by the BLM after he purchased a ranch in Hot Springs County, Wyoming in 1994. It turned out the BLM failed to properly document a “non-exclusive easement” they had been granted on the property — meaning Robbins had no idea he had bought land that the BLM had rights to.
When the BLM realized their easement was no longer valid, an agency employee contact Robbins and demanded he grant the BLM a new easement. The employee warned Robbins that if he didn’t comply, the agency would block access to his property. The BLM official said that the agency would get the land “one way or another.”
“Many ranchers have a problem with the BLM and [U.S. Forest Service],” rancher Wayne Hage told lawmakers last fall. “They have conducted themselves in a criminal manner and destroyed many ranchers. I personally have been at the receiving end of this criminal conduct.”
Over the past 23 years, Hage has taken the BLM and the Forest Service to court many times over federal agencies taking his property and his water rights. His father even had a criminal charge overturned by a court levied against him by the Forest Service for “cleaning out brush from a ditch with hand tools.”
“There is something very wrong when the government is only interested in power and land control over the rights of the citizens,” Budd-Falen told TheDCNF. “This is simply a case of the government putting a rancher out of business because the rancher has to prove a negative — the burden is on the rancher while all deference goes to the federal government and the government only has to make allegations to eliminate a family, a business, a community, a way of life.”
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